The Perplexing Rules of French Restaurants

Last week Chris and I escaped to Cantal for a few days. We left the farm in the capable hands of Benj, Jackie and Rors and set off into the snow. Late October saw a blast of cold air sweep in from somewhere bringing an early delivery of wintry weather. Our destination was Aurillac, somewhere we’ve visited twice in the past – once pre-children, and the second time when the two eldest were still quite small. En route we noticed a sign saying ‘La Source de la Creuse’. How could we pass by the opportunity to see where the river after which our département is named begins. So we stopped, donned wellies and warm layers and tramped off through the snow.

There are, in fact, several sources (springs) of the Creuse. They rise very close together and soon combine.

Our second stop on the way was at Bort-les-Orgues to view the amazing ‘organ pipe’ basalt formations.

We also did a spot of geocaching along the Dordogne. We were thus tired and hungry when we arrived at our hotel in Aurillac. The restaurant at the Campanile hotel didn’t start doing food until 7.30pm, and what with the clocks going back that morning, that extra hour’s waiting was way too much. We thus hit McDonald’s for calories. It was a rather miserable meal: Chris’s burger was almost cold, I had to wait ages for my wrap, and my hot chocolate came as half a cup of warmish milk and ten minutes later the chocolate powder to stir into it with a tiny wooden stick. It wasn’t good!

So, next night, after a busy day which I’ll tell you more about another time, we headed to Flunch. These boast being open from early in the morning until 9pm, seven days a week. Presumably serving meals all the time. We got there about half past five and there was a limited range of hot food on offer. We didn’t mind, we were so hungry after having walked 21.77 km that day that anything would have done. Chris had a burger and I had sausages. Perfect. We were the only diners, and as soon as they’d served us, the staff all swooped onto a nearby table to eat their own meals.

Next day, another marathon but slightly under 20km of walking, our last day of holiday, Chris fancied something more exotic than Flunch could offer. He found out about a Vietnamese restaurant that was open at lunchtimes, and then again from 4pm in the afternoon. A godsend for hungry hikers who like to eat early anyway. We got lost though, and after walking round much of Aurillac and crossing its railway lines on an old bridge, we ended up at Flunch again. Only this time, about 5.15pm, there was no food. They’d begin serving again at 6.30pm they told us. We couldn’t compute this. There was the very large restaurant, all lit and heated. There were half a dozen members of staff pottering around, but not selling food and therefore generating income! And yesterday, at the same time more or less, we’d been able to eat. Hmmm. Perhaps they’d just wanted to use up the leftover food that had been pre-cooked. We couldn’t work out why the rules had suddenly changed, leaving us foodless.

So it was either McDo’s or another march to have a go at finding the Vietnamese restaurant. We opted for the latter, and a kilometre or so later we found it. The place was in darkness but the door wasn’t locked so we went inside. The chef swooped on us and seated us at a table when we asked if we could have a meal. She even put the lights on! She took our order – cuttlefish special (hot) for Chris, and something chicken and hopefully mild for me. Then her boss came in and told us we were early. Was that a signal to up and leave, even though our food was sizzling away in the kitchen? He grumbled a bit more then brought our drinks over so we guessed it was OK to stay. We played the confused English tourist role so that he could feel superiorly French!

The meal was lovely and very reasonably priced. The boss slash waiter became chattier, and a €5 tip to apologise for eating too early made him positively garrulous! We checked the sign on the door as we left: it definitely said it opened at 4pm. Were we foolish to assume that meant that food was available from that time too? Maybe it opens but needs three hours to settle into the mood for receiving diners? Who knows! The perplexing rules of French restaurants remain a mystery.